It’s been windy lately.

It’s March though, so go figure. Tumbleweeds pummel the side of the house and scamper across the highway in their yearly migration. Dust wreaks havoc with allergies, and trash collects in the fenced corner of the yard.

It’s like this every year. Always has been.

When I was a kid, I liked things that went up in the air. Mostly rockets. Sometimes planes. But kites interested me for a bit as well. When I was very young, my siblings and I tried to make kites out of construction paper and string. I don’t remember if we used anything else- just paper. And string.

They weren’t exactly sturdy. Or flight-worthy.

The “kites” were square, with kite-lines drawn on in crayon. I think we just taped the string on, expecting them to float loftily on the wind with a simple toss upwards.

(Toddler logic.)

They didn’t, of course. My memories aren’t very clear, but I think we choose an extremely windy day, and my paper square was ripped out of my hands fairly quickly, flying straight into the limbs of a tree, a victim of Charlie Brownian Motion.

A few weeks later, my mother found the kites- a bird had collect the leftover bits and used them in her nest. So not a complete loss.

When I was a few years older, I received a kite as a gift- a blue plastic triangle of a kite with yellow and black eyes near the peak, and a long solid black tail hanging below it.

By now at least I knew not to just let the kite go and hope for the best. Somehow, I managed to get it in the air from one of the fields below the house. I still didn’t really understand how to kite, I think, or else I just wanted to see how far it would go- because once the kite was flying at a sufficiently adequate altitude, I didn’t just hold it there and enjoy the peaceful beauty of basic science.

Instead, I fed it some string, held it and let the kite climb, then fed it some more string, etc. Soon, the kite could hardly be seen in the air. At one point, the tail detached, and I watched it slowly flutter through the air into one of the neighbor’s fields.

(I never found it again. It probably ended in a hay bale somewhere, like so many of the model rockets I made in my teen years, I’m sure. But I used it to make the title of the column. So not a complete loss.)

A massive spool of red string had been around in our household for as long as I could remember, and made its way into practically every craft project ever done. Of course, this is what I choose for my kite. By the time I could no longer clearly see the kite, there wasn’t much string left on the spool.

It was beginning to get dark, but I was stuck now. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to pull the string back in. Letting go was obviously not a solution!

I could hear my mother calling me for dinner. Doggedly, I held to that faithful red string and slowly began to wind it back in, one small inch at a time. It got a little easier with each turn … but so much string had been used. Bringing the kite back to earth was taking far longer than getting it into the air.

My mother joined me in the field after wondering what was taking me so long, since I never missed a meal. She was astonished by how high the kite had gone, and with her help, we finally managed to retrieve the kite (and the heroic string!) before supper became too cold.

I don’t remember ever flying that kite again. If I did, it never flew as high as it had that very first time.

(Not sure what ended up happening to the string, either. It disappeared sometime in high school.)

Years later, as an adult in the Midwest, friends and I used to take advantage of the wind by flying kites as a group.

(We were young, and had more time on our hands to commit to activities with no real fulfillment, I guess.)

Some of the group really got into it, trying box kites and different unlikely contraptions. I think I got a cheap kite-and-string combo from the drug store, and brought it along to our weekly Saturday gathering.

We met at a local park, and I was one of the first to get my kite in the air. In fact, the kite skills of my youth were still with me, for once again, this kite quickly rose, higher and higher into the afternoon sky, majestically bobbing in the wind, stretching the length of the entire park, sailing far across even the soccer field where the local youth teams were having a match.

I proudly stood, carefully controlling my kite, striking a noble pose on a small hillock. Onlookers looked up, pointing out the kite to their neighbors. Soon, it (and I!) were the center of the crowd’s attention, such that when the wind suddenly died, no one missed seeing the kite forcefully plummet to the ground on the other side of the soccer field, far from me.

The kite string stretched from goal to goal. I began to wind it furiously, but this time, I didn’t have my mother to help. Like running in a dream, the faster I tried to go, the slower it seemed to take.

People began to boo. I wasn’t even playing in the game!

After an agonizing number of minutes, the coaches had the teams line up along the length of the string, and each kid helped lift and walk it to the side of the field. The game resumed as I reeled myself across the sidelines, red faced, quietly apologizing along the way.

That was probably two decades ago, and I’ve never sufficiently recovered to try to fly a kite again.

I think about it sometimes though. Flying a kite can be a remarkably calming and centering activity, when active soccer games aren’t involved. Sure, there’s no real point to it that may adequately satisfy my cynical middle-aged sensibilities … but why does there have to be?

Maybe it’s ok to just do it to do it. Maybe the point is that there isn’t a point, and there doesn’t have to be. Maybe the tumbleweeds have the right idea, and sometimes you just have to see where the wind will take you.

Because even if you end up plummeting to the earth (figuratively) or needing your mom to help reel it all back in (also … figuratively, I guess), for awhile at least, you’ll get to break free of the world and soar in the sky, with nothing to worry about but a square of paper and some string.

Every March the winds will blow.

May as well have a little fun with it, so it’s not a complete loss.

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There’s an issue with my house, and I’m not sure what to.

There’s a … scourge, if you will.

Pests.

In a pestilence.

Of three.

I know, that’s not many. But they get around.

For example, my office is infested with … deskcats.

Two of them, usually. In my way, regardless of what I’m doing.

They like to walk on my keyboard. They enjoy sleeping in front of my monitors. Or worse, standing in front of them. Their hair is everywhere, especially inside my computer.

In fact, their inthewayness is directly proportional to the importance of my activities.

If I’m there, at least one of the cats is as well. I’ve done my best to control the situation- I put a cattrap on my desk: an empty box lid. This usually draws their focus, and has a calming effect as well. It’s almost always occupied, and usually there’s another deskcat lying right beside it, unable to resist its lure.

But it doesn’t help matters that the cats rarely get along, and don’t like to be in this close of proximity. They’re a bit like the two outer hemispheres of the plutonium Demon Core- the closer they get to each other, the more violent, volatile and dangerous the situation becomes.

(Look it up – I’m trying to be educational. Try your local library!)

It’s best when the deskcats sleep, even if they do tend to sprawl. At least Wilfred does (he’s the newest pest, fairly recently joining (invading?) the household.)

Wilfred weighs in at 25 pounds, and is the size of a small toddler. He really has no awareness of his size, or destructive capabilities. Traversing the desk with all the grace of a tank covered in shag carpeting, he delights in making his bed in whatever piles of debris have accumulated on the surface (which, to be honest, tends to be a fairly large and diverse amount.)

As he sleeps, he begins to spread. Like most cats, without continuous concentration he reverts back to his natural, liquatic state- oozing towards the edges of the desk and pushing the contents before him, a flood of stationery items.

(While you’re at the library, ask about homonyms as well, if you missed the previous joke.)

It’s deceptively cute at first, and even more deceptively peaceful.

Eventually, the furry feline flotsam begins to encompass the cattrap containing Jinx, the grouchy retired alley cat of the house; critical mass is reached and claws are exposed; and at least one leaves the desk in explosive fury.

None of which helps me get any work done. And then Jinx attacks my mouse hand as well, because insults also require injuries, apparently.

It’s not just my office. At night, when the lights are off, and I’m trying to sleep, the darkness of my room hides the infestation of bedcats.

Well, bedcat- Jinx tends to be the only pest. He has very strict rules for sharing the bed (which excludes other cats) and has one singular way of letting me know if I’ve broken them: one paw, stretched out, patting me lightly on whatever exposed skin is available … with claws extended.

It’s like someone’s trying to get my attention by tapping me gently with a cactus, and is highly effective. Or maybe more moderately effective than I realize, considering the number of small scratches I mysteriously accumulate.

If I forget to fill the bathroom sink for him before I go to bed, he lets me know. Insistently, with his paw needles. The only way to stop this is to get up and run the water until the sink has reached a level of his liking. He watches to make sure I do it right.

(Yes, he has a full bowl of water, but it’s all the way out in the kitchen and that’s just not convenient enough for him.)

If I sleep too late, he lets me know. Repeatedly. Until I get up.

I haven’t woken up to my alarm in years; he decides when I’ve slept enough. Worse, he’s getting me up earlier and earlier all the time – soon, I’ll be getting out of bed before I’ve ever gotten in.

Maybe that’s his eventual, evil goal … to achieve total domination of the bed and keep it all to himself, as I stand by filling and refilling the bathroom sink.

Neither is the living room a safe haven. Luckily, Jinx has his own basket on a stand that he stays in while we watch TV, but it is when I am most comfortably ensconced in my own chair that the third adorable pest makes her appearance.

Akoya is a daytime burrowing bedcat, shyly hiding from the light by digging under blankets, usually only visible by a singular paw stuck out under the edge, leading back to a tell-tale bump that faintly meows when softly poked.

She enjoys watching TV with the rest of us; however, while Jinx has his basket, Akoya prefers to stand on my chest, demanding attention, shedding the purrs she’s built up during the day, blocking my view. Eventually, she can be convinced to lay down, an orange horizon I look over and across to see my latest shows, like an upside-down sunset.

She’ll stay there as long as I carefully pet her, or until Wilfred decides he wants to share the attention and jumps on my lap, purring like he’s having an asthma attack. This goes over even less well than the desk situation; Akoya is not shy about her antagonism towards Wilfred, usually expressing herself through a literal hissy fit.

Eventually, just like desk or bed, everyone can be cajoled into a sort of acceptance of each other, at least until they don’t, and it starts over again: a never ending Ouroboros buffet of buffoonery.

(You haven’t left the library yet, have you? Good.)

My house has an adorable affliction of furry pestilence, causing havoc and creating messes, leaving dust and hair and hairballs in its wake, waking me with claws and hisses and thirsty demands.

I’m afraid it’s chronic, and most likely not going to go away for however long we remain in the house.

Still … it  is  nice to have some company in my office, and to hear the soft snores at night, and to be snuggled against during a commercial break …

To be honest … I don’t want it any other way.

It’s Sunday evening, and once again, the weekend is gone just as I got used to it being here.

I look forward to the weekends, just like all of the other adults out there. Most of them. Some of you are weird.

The weekends are a chance to do things I don’t normally do when responsibilities and duties take over my time; a relief from the ordinary structure of my work week.

The days of my week are planned out, and go by thusly:

-Monday: Well, here I go again.

-Tuesday: at least it’s not Monday

-Wednesday: Middle of the week, it’s downhill from here.

-Thursday: Almost Friday.

-Friday: will this day ever end?

Finally, Friday evening arrives, and I’m home once more, my favorite place in the world. I get to stay up a little later, sleep in a little later (if the cat allows), and spend my time how I want.

I do some house work Saturday mornings, so that my afternoons are free. I’ll play on my computer, watch a movie in the evening, go to bed early then stay up late reading news articles.

Sunday morning is when we get groceries, then I’ll play on my computer for awhile again, do some preparation for my lunches during the week, get together with friends in the evening to watch some tv or play board games, and then home to dread the coming of Monday morning once again.

I suppose it sounds tranquil.

A lot of my time, however, is spent thinking of all the things I should be doing, and how much time is spent not doing them – I should write more. My bookshelves need alphabetized. And dusted. So does my CD collection.

I still have some boxes that I haven’t unpacked, and we moved in almost four years ago. I haven’t shuffled them around recently to make it look like I’ve done something with them.

There’s a pile of papers in the corner that I’ve been meaning to sort through and file before the cat wees on them. I bought some painting supplies three years ago that I’ve been meaning to do something with.

And the weekend goes by so fast, doesn’t it?

There’s barely enough time to think about what I should be doing with the time there is, and each weekend goes by just a little more quickly. Which accumulates a little more the older I get, until it takes half the time to get through a weekend than it did just a decade ago!

Even the weekdays pass faster as well, which is somewhat frightening. The weekends I long for arrive just a little quicker as well, week in, year in, etc., etc.

It’s not going to slow down anytime soon, either, if experience is a reliable indicator (which it tends to be.)

The more I worry about how to make the best use of my time the more worried I get that I’m not using it right, and there’s something better I should be doing, and there’s so many better things I should be doing that I worry that one of them is more better than the rest and there’s too much better to choose from that I end up not choosing anything at all.

And the weekend is wasted again.

I need to be more cautious with my time, I suppose- learn to measure it in tangible results instead of the more nebulous- one book read, instead of x amount of hours in a computer game. One painting created, instead of x number of minutes spent thinking it looks awful.

(Not much I can do about x number of minutes spent in line at the grocery store. Annoyingly.)

I’ve heard time should be measured in moments, and experiences, and maybe a more accurate measure of time then is by the quality of those moments and experiences. While I do have enjoyable memories of time spent in fantastical computer environments, I also have enjoyable memories of petting the cats. And when I pet the cat, it’s a two-for-one special on memories for both of us, so I don’t mind at all considering it usually comes about while I’m on the computer and they’re interrupting me anyway.

I just want more time for the cats and the computers and the paintings and the books and the papers in the corner that now need thrown away. I’m trying to hold onto and spend wisely what no one before me has ever been able to do any better; it’s always finite.

It was easier when I was a kid. Time took so much longer then.

Maybe if I’d known what the trade off was, I wouldn’t have rushed to become an adult.

There’s a not a single person reading this who does not understand my concern, no matter how much better they are at spending their time than I am. I guess I don’t even think I’m necessarily misspending my time; I just want more to show for it.

I just want more. Who doesn’t?

There’s a saying: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

20 years ago was the best time to start spending my time as wisely as possible.

The second best time is now.

So I’m going to end this column a little sooner than usual, and spend some extra time with the cats for a bit; their time is even more finite than my own..

Which doesn’t seem to bother them. Maybe we shouldn’t let it bother us so much, either.

Maybe worrying about it is the real waste of time, all along.

 

It’s my favorite time of the year, once again.

Yes, I’m saying that with all the sarcasm I can muster.

I don’t hate the holidays. What I hate is not being allowed to ignore the holidays.

Every year, the reminders that CHRISTMAS IS COMING! begin a little earlier. Sales that used to be touted as “Christmas in July” now simply begin as early Christmas sales … in July.

(I don’t believe there is a War on Christmas, but if there is, every year Christmas gets its opening assault in a little earlier.)

Still, even that is essentially ignorable, even as the commercial forwardness increases as Thanksgiving approaches, peaking as ever on “Black Friday” before settling into a month of daily reminders of the remaining shopping days before Christmas, with one blissful day of silence on December 25th before returning, zombie-like, as “After-Christmas Sales!” leading up to January 1st, when the themetatic tide changes to sales celebrating the arrival of the New Year.

Annoying, but again, I can tune them out for the most part (even the insipid TV ads, to which the life of the most festive, Christmas-cheer-saturated, eggnog-drenched holiday exuberant existentialist fails in comparison to the over-the-top holiday expressionism placed on  display.)

(Tune them out; yes. Hate them; overwhelmingly yes.)

However, what I’m not able to escape is the omnipresent, ever-intrusive Christmas carol.

At some point in the fall, they start to creep out and begin to be heard, like frogs emerging from hibernation; jarring, like the sudden snore of an untreated apneac. I’ll be listening to the radio on the way to work, or casually choosing my week’s worth of what I convince myself is healthy food at the grocery store, when without warning … the sounds of jingle bells will be heard.

While I’m usually not in a position to take a measurement to verify, I’m certain this causes an alarming spike in my blood pressure.

As autumn progresses, the carols become more and more common, although many times the deluge doesn’t truly begin until the day after Thanksgiving, which makes sense, as there are no longer reasons for thanks to be given once an endless repetition of songs about Santa and snow and trees takes over the airwaves.

(One radio station local to me proudly begins playing Christmas carols on October 1st, excitedly reminding listeners that it’s carols 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the way until Christmas day!)

(Coincidentally, October 1st is also the day I reprogram my radio presets to exclude that station.)

Maybe I wouldn’t hate carols so much if there were more than five. Really, that’s all there seem to be- the same five carols that have been recorded and re-recorded again, and again, and again.

Sometimes, I can hear the same carol three times in a row, done by a different group.

Really though, I can’t blame the artists. Recording a Christmas Carol is a sure-fire way to have a song in heavy rotation every single year. Forever.

But it seems to be so … repetitive. Which I realize is a function of rotation, but still.

I’ve already heard “Silent Night” uncountable times this year. Ironic, really, because that’s just what I’d like to have.

Occasionally, a group will come out with a new song. Sometimes, this song even manages to be popular. Usually because the befuddled masses become entranced by this shiny new addition to the Rudolphs and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (probably the carol I hate the most. Seriously – what exactly is a “new old-fashioned way”? That’s just illogical.) Like them or not, they’re now here to stay.

But for every “Last Christmas”, there’s 30 versions of “White Christmas”. “Christmas Wrappings” begets five more versions of “Blue Christmas” with each play (I looked up the number of versions, and lost count around 46). I’m sure both the white and blue songs were created because neither Irving Berlin nor Billy Hayes could stomach hearing “Winter Wonderland” one more time.

Even “Rudolph” and the despised “Rockin’” were new once.

(Just how a 13-year-old Brenda Lee managed to sound like a 65-year-old whiskey-soaked spinster with a three-pack-a-day habit may forever be a mystery. At the very least, it’s probably the most unusual of Christmas miracles.)

I was even there in the early 80s when Elmo & Patsy released the zeitgeistenal “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” to the world, annoying grandmothers and nearly everyone else for nigh unto 40 years and the unforeseeable future.

(I actually rather like that one. The original, deadpan version; not the dreadful slapstick re-recording that came out soon after.)

(Then again, I can count the number of carols I really like on one hand. Even if I lost a finger. Or hand.)

I’ll grant that the dearth of new carols may be caused more by limitation than lack of creativity- there’re only so many permutations of combinations of the words Christmas, Snow, Night, Santa, or … well, that’s about all there is, really.

So what’s a Christmas Curmudgeon to do? I’ve already determined there’s no escape, and even if I were to embrace the holidays; fully, unequivocally, wholeheartedly embrace them, I’ll never be able to achieve the ideals represented in your average Christmas jewelry commercial.

I’m an adult, and as such, I am perfectly capable of divining a way to handle these months of musical torture; one that does not require driving in silence or avoiding groceries until January 2nd.

I’ll start by making a large batch of cookie dough. But not cookies- no, just the dough will be enough.

Then, I’ll sit there, in my darkened living room, sullenly eating spoons of cookie dough while watching the burnt-out yule log channel on TV. Muted, of course.

And I’ll stay there, silently, until the cookie dough is gone and I can face the world’s festivities once again.

(I have it on good authority from people I pay to listen to me that this is an acceptable and not uncommon activity.)

If there is a war on Christmas, I’m convinced it was started by Christmas as an excuse to beat everything else up and prove how tough it is.

So I’ll remain, ‘til the night before Christmas, when all through the house, nothing will be stirring, except me – another batch of sugar cookie dough.

Only six more shopping days to go.

I have something to admit.

I may have a problem.

This is … this is difficult. But as the saying goes, admitting I have a problem is the first step towards recovery.

So here is my story.

It started a number of years ago; maybe eight, maybe ten, at the corner Loaf & Jug convenience store. I’d stopped by late in the evening on my way to work the night shift, looking for something to help me stay awake. I watched as another man glanced around surreptitiously before pulling out his money for his furtive purchase.

Oh, I was familiar with what he was buying. But I never thought I’d try it myself, mainly because of the bad things I’d heard and how awful some people believed it to be.

Seeing this stranger, with his shaking hands and euphoric contentment, struck a chord in me, a longing for something new, different, and a little bit rebellious and experimental for a guy such as myself.

So I did it. I bought my own, the most I could get (it was going to be a long night). Minutes later, in my car parked on the shadowy side of the lot, where no-one could see, I finally tried it myself.

Instantly, I knew why the other man looked so happy, as I felt the warm contentedness spreading through me myself. That night, as I worked, I continued taking it in small doses, wanting it to last, wanting that warmth and the feel and the taste to never end.

That began the descent into what many will call an addiction.

That was my very first pumpkin spice latte.

I know many will scoff at this revelation, not seeing it as a real addiction, but each fall, it seems I just can’t get enough of this particular flavor combination. A combination that, while marked with pictures of pumpkin pie and whipped cream, does not particularly taste like its namesake – no significant amount of pumpkin, but hints of cinnamon and nutmeg and crushed fall leaves and brisk chilled breeze and maybe just a subtle undertone of woodsmoke to tie it all together, it’s like autumn on the tongue for me.

People seem to fall into two distinct categories, dividing our nation even more greatly than any of the current political battlefields: either loving pumpkin spice in all its various permutations, or detesting even the most subtle trace or glimpsed sight they may experience.

And so I call them out: this time of year is not for you. This is the time for me, and my spice-loving brethren.

Luckily, there’s plenty out there to satisfy my craving, and each year around September, old products being rolled out are greeted with new products released for the first time, seeking to cash in on the popularity fueled by my and others stomachly obsession.

Each year, however, I seem to get a little bit more out of hand.

What started with pumpkin spice lattes carried over to pumpkin spice flavored coffee creamer. Thanks not only is my go-to spice fix, but is also usually the first to show up on the grocery store shelves, telling me that the time is at hand for the pumpkin spice goodness to begin its march onto the aisles of the supermarket and then from there into the deepest, darkest depths of my hungry, hungry maw.

Inevitably, pumpkin spice snack cakes make themselves available. I try to hold back, limiting myself to just one type per week. Currently, I’m enjoying sponge cakes with pumpkin spice flavored creme filling. Last week, it was pumpkin spice cake rolls. Maybe next week, it will be sandwich cookies.

All I know is I want to try as many varieties as I can before they disappear once again.

For breakfast today, I thoroughly enjoyed pumpkin spice pancakes. I also know there are pumpkin spice chocolates and candy corn out there, somewhere, just waiting for me to find. Probably lurking near the pumpkin spice breakfast cereals. But it doesn’t end there: I have pumpkin spice air freshener in my bathroom, so I can indulge both coming and going.

Each year, I search the internet for lists of new, seasonal pumpkin spice products. Mae West famously stated, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful!”

Why should I doubt her wisdom?

So I’ll stock my pantry with pumpkin spice bagels and bread, as well as the pumpkin spice granola bars the internet tells me are out there this year. Apparently there is pumpkin spice ice cream to indulge in as well. And if I start feeling sickly, pumpkin spice cough drops may come to my rescue; my orange-hued, ginger-powdered hero.

There’s pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls (that probably didn’t take a lot of work to come up with) and pumpkin spice yoghurt. Really, if you can imagine it, it’s probably out there, and flavored like fall.

(I’m probably going to need to find some pumpkin spice antacids.)

I’m going to keep an out for the pumpkin spice lip balm I’ve seen mentioned, and I’ve heard there’s flavored vodka out there as well. (I wonder if I can find it in rum? What incredible eggnog that would make! Especially if it’s pumpkin spice flavored eggnog!)

(Which is a thing.)

Pumpkin spice marshmallows are on my list, for sweet potatoes or hot chocolate or for a solitaire game of chubby bunny behind closed doors.

(Surprising no one, I’m sure. I’m trying to tackle one issue at a time.)

If I can track down the pumpkin spice scented bleach, it’s going in my cart. While I haven’t heard of it (yet), I’m hoping to find like-scented fabric softener or dryer sheets.

(Smelling that much like food, however, may be borderline insensitive. To my own stomach!)

Addiction aside, I’ve seen mention of a few products that cross even my own lines of taste. I really can’t see myself using pumpkin spice deodorant, for instance.

So maybe I’m not a lost cause. Maybe … maybe there’s hope for me still …

Because the pumpkin spice bologna is absolutely out of the question.

Sorry, Miss West.

There just has to be a limit.

Some days, I think I’m the best driver on the road.

Most days, I’m sure of it. Everyone drives worse than me.

Of course, nearly anyone randomly asked probably answers the same. Those who do not, do not actually drive.

It’s a logical fallacy because everyone cannot be the best driver in the world. (Although at least one person will be correct.)

It’s too bad it’s not true; driving would be a lot less messy and miserable.

Each of us has reason to believe we’re the best on the road. We’ve all seen the issues with others when we drive. Turn signals that are not used. Right of ways ignored. Laws of physics challenged.

Interestingly enough, ask any person where the worst drivers are, and they will invariably answer with their own location. Another logical fallacy (although once again one answer will be correct.) Usually, it seems the better of a driver a person thinks they are, the worse they’ll say the other drivers are in their area.

(With that being said …)

The drivers in my city are awful.

While driving, anyone I see doing something wrong on the road is automatically an idiot driver. (If I were to do the same thing, it’s simply a one-time mistake, of course.) However, those who show repeated mistakes in quick progression certainly don’t do themselves any favors.

It can be argued, I suppose, that these people are actually very good drivers – I mean, look at them. Look at the mistakes they make, not using their blinker. Look at the risks they take, weaving in and out of traffic. Look at how fast they go, ignoring the posted speed limit. Look … just look at them as they insert their contact lenses.

Yet, somehow, they remain in control of their vehicles. (Stop looking now; it’s getting more and more terrifying.)

I’ll admit to a grudging amount of respect for these drivers, although I don’t like them, nor do I want to be like them. I certainly don’t like the anger they cause me. I blame my high blood pressure on other people in cars. Each time I narrowly avoid yet another accident, I can just feel those systolic/diastolic numbers ticking upwards. And I doubt I’m the only one.

But really, is it that they’re excellent drivers avoiding the accidents that would befall others, or is it that the wheeled herd they travel with has enough better drivers to make up for the willful ignoring of common vehicle operation safety laws by these nefarious individuals?

No matter how good of a driver you believe yourself to be, I’m sure we can all agree some activities while driving are simply inexcusable. The cupholder is not for martinis, for instance. This really began to be frowned upon during the 70s, probably because the high alcohol content of a spilled drink was dangerously able to melt polyester on contact.

Additionally, while I don’t think eating behind the wheel should be regulated as heavily, using both hands to do so really crosses a line. Especially if the vehicle has a manual transmission.

Furthermore, the vanity mirror should not be used while driving to apply makeup or shave. I’m fairly certain most modern vehicles warn against these activities right there beside the mirror. One day, I’m sure the cover to the mirror will lock in place when the vehicle is in motion.

(Actually, that’s a pretty good idea. I hope a vehicle designer happens to be reading this.)

I suspect you believe I’m exaggerating, but I’ve witnessed each of these, sometimes more than once.

Some I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve borne witness.

(To save space, let’s not even get into a discussion on the use of cellphones.)

It could be there’s a sweet spot in age, a span of years where one not only thinks they’re a good driver, but actually are demonstrably, reasonably capable. Somewhere between the five years after a license is first achieved, and the age of leaving the turn signal on for 50 miles without realizing it, there’s the top of the bell curve we all try to reach and surpass.

(There’s an insurance agent reading this who knows exactly what I’m talking about, and probably has the answer right off the top of their head.)

Like I wrote earlier, I’ve made my own “mistakes” while driving. Looking at them objectively, it’s probably time to admit I’m getting close to the end of my own perfect driving sweet-spot.

My first major accident happened when I was 20; I turned in front of a vehicle I didn’t see and totalled the car I was driving.

My second major accident happened a few years ago when I drove through an intersection (with a green light!) and my vehicle was totalled by the police car I pulled into the path of when I didn’t see it.

The first one was my fault, I freely admit. The second was not. Even so, I’ve begun to find myself making a conscious effort to check to see if my turn signal is still flashing, or that the gasoline hose was put back before I leave the station, or that my coat isn’t closed in the bottom of the door. Again.

(I think I’ll stop now before this somehow gets back to my insurance agent and my rates increase.)

I’m astonished by the things I see other drivers get away with on a daily basis. How can anyone think it’s a good idea to pass on the right on a one-lane on ramp? Why has the yellow light become the universal symbol for drivers to increase their speeds? When was the class held that so many people missed that taught that the right-turn-only lane at a light is not there to suddenly accelerate ahead of everyone and cut into the main line of traffic going through the intersection?

To revisit the idea that I live in the city with the worst drivers – it’s not that I think these things don’t happen in other places. It’s that I don’t think they happen with such regularity.

Finally, while yes, I am actually close enough to read the snarky print on your bumper sticker suggesting I need to back off or do something with myself physiologically impossible at my age, it’s only because you pulled in front of me and immediately began to brake. So there.

If it gets bad enough, I guess I could always take the bus.

But … that’s an entirely different circle of hell on earth that I’d rather not revisit.

I am missing a front tooth. I used to be a bouncer.

(These two statements are completely unrelated, although both are true. It just made the opening seem much more interesting.)

In the late 90s, I hung out at a bar named Albuquerque Mining Company. I don’t remember how I became a regular there; I guess at the time it was the most welcoming bar I had found, and before long, I’d spend a number of my evenings there. I must have liked the atmosphere and the people, because I wasn’t a drinker then any more than I am now; soda or coffee were my choices.

I became friends with the cashier at the door, hanging out there and talking to him. Before long, people started showing me their IDs while I sat there on a stool, and not much longer after that, I started getting paid for it. Thursday nights were the busiest nights, and the bar’s manager, Midnyte, hired me to officially check IDs and help out around the bar.

In doing so, he opened a door and personally led me into a fascinating adventure featuring the bizarrity of humanity. Starting my very first night.

I sat on my stool checking IDs while George the ever-present cashier collected the cover. When the line died down enough to allow, I’d make a round through the various rooms of the bar. As I passed through the dance floor, the bartender waved me over- a number of patrons had told him of some sort of disturbance going on in the smaller room off to the side of the DJ booth, and he asked that I take a look.

The small room had low lights, and it seemed even darker coming from the swirling lights and strobes of the dance floor. The bed sheet that immediately hit me in the face didn’t help my eyes adjust any quicker.

After removing the sheet and adjusting to the dim lighting, I joined the circle of people staring at the center of the room, where there sat a folding chair. On the chair sat two women with one head.

No – one very large woman. In only her underclothes.

On top of her three women with one head another large woman frantically removed her clothing in flagrante delicto. I realized I held the woman’s shirt, not a bed sheet.

The alcohol servers certification class I had taken did not prepare me for this. Neither did Roadhouse.

Ignoring all others, their hands writhed across each other’s body in time to the music; they hungrily mouthed each other’s face as if they’d been smeared with honey.

“Excuse me,” I said, gingerly poking the smaller of the large women with my finger on what I hoped was not a breast.

No response.

EXCUSE ME!” I bellowed, straining to be heard above the dance beat and gelatinous sucking sounds.

Without stopping, their eyes opened and looked up at me. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT HERE!” I shouted down at them. I tossed the bed-shirt over their heads, and walked away. A few minutes later, they swept past me out the door and into the night, holding hands and giggling.

And so the spectacle began.

Another Thursday night, and again I made my rounds through the bar. Some of the rooms had themes- including the dungeon, lit only by TVs in the corners and the small light behind the bar the bartender used to read labels.

It usually smelled like leather, and wet pennies.

“Psst!”

(This was the first time in my life someone actually said “psst!” to me.)

I looked down at a round man with slicked back hair. I’m not overly tall, standing six feet, maybe 6’2” in my boots, but he only came up to my chest.

“Hey … do you have any powder?” he hissed.

I drew a blank. Powder? I had no idea what he could mean … unless!

“Why?” I asked, concerned and puzzled. “Are you chafing?”

He looked at me, confusion obvious in his close-set beetle-black eyes, then shook his neckless head, and wandered away.

(I eventually understood what he wanted, but it took me a number of years. I wasn’t yet completely without innocence.)

Most other nights were not nearly as busy as Thursdays. To bring in more business, Midnyte hired talented local boys to dance on the bar, wearing as little as the law allowed.

This included Shorter Dancer and Taller Dancer. Shorter Dancer was wiry, and wore little more than spray-on glitter. He told me once how he managed to express such high levels of ecstasy while giving lap dances.

“I close my eyes, lift my arm, try to bury my face in my armpit, and open my mouth like I’ve just stubbed my toe,” he said.

(Go ahead, try this at home. It really works!)

On one of the especially slow nights, a few other employees, dancers, and I all sat around the corner of the front bar. Brian tended bar, and for ten minutes entertained us by rolling his bar towel up in such a way that it looked like a cooked chicken, then making it dance for us. Finally, he shook out the towel, threw it back over his shoulder, and took a long drag off his cigarette.

He put a plastic salt shaker on the bar, and looked at the taller of the bar’s two dancers.

“I’ll give you 10 bucks if you can pick that up without using your hands or arms,” he said.

“Ok,” said Taller Dancer.

With the flexibility of the young, he squatted over the salt shaker, pressing it into his sweating bum crack. As the minutes passed, he repeatedly clenched, strained, and grunted, but every time, the salt shaker slid free when he tried to stand. Finally, his cheeks (and face) red, he admitted defeat and hopped down off the bar.

Shorter Dancer immediately ran over and started sniffing the salt shaker.

We all howled with laughter, and a bit of disgust. They both earned $10 that night.

Towards the end of my time there, I sat at my usual place at the bar, wearing my usual outfit – trench coat, black clothes, boots, etc. Nursing my cherry coke (Brian always gave me extra cherries), I lamented to him that, for as much of a meat market the bar was reputed to be, rarely did anyone hit on me, besides the occasional drunken lesbian.

“Wellll …” he said, drawing out the word like he didn’t want to move on to what was to be said next, “It’s because everyone’s afraid of you.”

“Afraid of me?!” I asked, incredulous, after returning from the parking lot where I had just tackled another lesbian trying to throw a cinder block through her estranged girlfriend’s windshield. (“Suck my diccckkk!!!” she screamed at me from the car window as they drove into the night.) “Why the hell would anyone be afraid of me?”

“Psst …” came from behind me.

“Oh, go away already!” I snapped.

Eventually, the late nights started taking too great a toll on my day job, and I gave up my life of breaking up fights, lugging around the occasional beer keg, dodging the talon-like fingernails of Central’s finest “ladies” of the evening (the prettiest ones were always men in drag), and putting out the occasional flaming garbage can with a fire extinguisher, as well as the occasional heated couple in the bathroom, and left my job.

Decades have passed since, and I lived in another state when the Mining Company shut its doors for good, but not before one final blowout of a party that I would have loved to attend. Even the building is gone now, torn down to make way for a modern pharmacy.

Nothing’s ever going to tear down those memories of the crazy nights of dancing chickens, dueling drag queens, and daring dancers, however. Somehow, we all managed to keep each other sane.

I have no regrets, but these days, I’m long past the age of being able to hang out at bars until the wee hours of the night and still function the next day, let alone stay awake.

I’ll leave the new adventures in the capable hands of today’s uninhibited youth. Perhaps one of them will rise to the challenge, and finally manage to pick up a salt shaker without using their hands.

Or not.

But hopefully, someone will at least try.